Day lilies bloom the first half of the summer along roadsides, stream sides and forest edges. They're wonderful to admire in tabletop arrangements and -- if eating flowers does not offend your sensibility -- wonderful to include in the summer menu, too.
Through every phase of a day lily's blooming, it provides unusual food. The unopened buds, from one inch to three inches in length, offer tender, crisp salad fixings. As a steamed vegetable, they are sometimes likened to green beans, although more for their shape than their flavor.
When day lilies open for their single day of bloom, they provide the most sumptuous summer meal of all: day lily blossom tempura. Spend a few morning moments picking an ample bouquet of day lilies as a centerpiece for your table, then surprise your guests by dipping the blossoms, one by one, in an airy batter and deep-frying them to a golden brown.
Be sure to schedule this meal early in the day -- how about a day lily bruncheon? If you wait until evening, your bouquet of day lilies will follow its daily cycle and the blooms will close forever.
Some may prefer to watch their day lilies bloom in the garden; but the flowers can still be eaten. Even the day-old, withered flowers can be gathered and dried for later uses. Spread them on a clean screen for a day in the full sunshine, heat them in a gentle oven (200 degrees) for about an hour, or microwave them a few at a time, for only half a minute. Dried, they'll last all winter, and add flavor, body and an exotic touch to soups.
Even in fall and winter, after the flowers recede, you can dig underground day lily tubers: crunchy, nut-like nuggets with a taste all their own. Slice them into salads as you would a radish.
While the entire day lily plant provides food as well as beauty, not all lilies do. Don't confuse the day lily with the tiger lily, which blooms a similar orange color. Black spots polka-dot the inside of its long-lasting blossom and its leaves grow all the way up the flower stalk.
A day lily, on the other hand, blooms an unblemished orange or yellow on a naked flower stalk. Numerous blossoms arise from a single scape but, true to its name, each flower lasts but a day . . .just time enough to capture its beauty and flavor in your summer cuisine. DAY LILY SUMMER SALAD 1 loose bunch of leaf lettuce 3 scallions 5 sprigs fresh dill weed, or 1 tablespoon dried 10 to 15 day lily buds Dressing: 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar 3 tablespoons olive oil Juice of 1 lemon 1 tablespoon sour cream Dash of dry mustard Dash of salt
Gently tear leaf lettuce into manageable pieces. Slice scallions on the diagonal; include green tops as well as white bulbs. Mince dill weed, if using fresh herb. Slice day lily buds on the diagonal, or leave small ones whole.
To prepare dressing, combine all ingredients and toss with salad. DAY LILY BLOSSOM TEMPURA 1 egg yolk 2 cups ice cold water 1 cup white flour 2/3 cup whole wheat flour (all white flour may be used) 1/8 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teaspoon salt 36 open day lily blossoms Oil for deep frying, preferably safflower or sunflower
Prepare batter just before serving. Whisk egg yolk into ice cold water. Sift into it flours, soda and salt. Dip dry, open blossoms into batter. Drop into oil, heated to about 375 degrees. Turn and lightly fry until golden brown. Serve immediately. DAY LILY VEGETABLE SOUP 2 large onions 6 stalks celery 1 small red cabbage 4 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 teaspoon each sage and rosemary 15 to 20 dried day lily flowers (or you may use fresh flowers) 3 tomatoes 1 1/2 quarts boiling water Salt to taste
Dice onions, slice celery and cabbage quite thinly. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and add onions, celery and cabbage. Cook until soft. Sprinkle in sage and rosemary. Stir in day lily flowers and let cook slowly until they have absorbed moisture. Dice tomatoes and add them, juice and all, to other vegetables. Add up to 1 1/2 quarts boiling water, but do not let soup boil. Season to taste.